How to Spend 4 Days Exploring Vancouver Island

Wild Pacific Trail | © Retinafunk / Flickr
Wild Pacific Trail | © Retinafunk / Flickr
Photo of Hayley Simpson
Writer27 December 2017

Vancouver Island is a great Pacific Northwest getaway that’s easy to reach from both mainland British Columbia and Washington State. With ferries and seaplanes departing regularly, it’s perfect for long weekend road trips. Here is a sample itinerary to get the most out of four days on the island, which will allow you to see some of its best attractions.

Day 1: Victoria

First things first—no trip to Vancouver Island is complete without visiting Victoria, British Columbia’s capital city. It’s also the easiest place to reach from the mainland, with regular ferries and seaplanes departing from both Vancouver and various locations in Washington. There are plenty of things to do and see in the city, such as the Inner Harbour, Fisherman’s Wharf, Royal BC Museum, Butchart Gardens, Hatley Castle, Craigdarroch Castle, Canada’s oldest Chinatown, and Beacon Hill Park.

For budget travelers, Victoria is home to one hostel. Ocean Island Inn is centrally located in the downtown area and has dormitories, standard rooms, and family rooms. For people with a bit more money to spend, there’s no grander place to stay than Fairmont Empress, located in Victoria’s picturesque Inner Harbour. Also, make sure you enjoy Tea at the Empress.

Fairmont Empress | © Hayley Simpson

Day 2: Drive to Tofino

The drive from Victoria to Tofino straight through takes about 4.5 hours, but there are plenty of places to stop and enjoy along the way. Firstly, Cowichan Valley is known for its many orchards, farms, and cideries. You can have an ice cream at Cowichan Bay and check out the world-famous murals in Chemainus. For people who want a seaside break, stop north of Nanaimo at either Rathtrevor Beach or Qualicum Beach. Then it’s time to head west towards Tofino.

A popular lunch stop on the highway is Old Country Market, which is famous for its unusual roof residents—goats! The market is home to a deli, gift shop, bakery, ice cream shop, taqueria, surf shop, and two restaurants. Another recommended stop along the way to Tofino is Cathedral Grove, which is a stand of Douglas-fir trees that are up to 800 years old.

A great glamping place in Tofino is Ocean Village Resort, which is home to the cutest beehive-shaped cabins. The affordable accommodation option suits both couples and families and sits directly on Mackenzie Beach. Tofino is also known for its unforgettable beach sunsets, so don’t miss out!

Ocean Village Resort |  © Hardo Müller / Flickr

Day 3: Exploring the west coast

Tofino is an adventure lover’s paradise. There is a selection of activities to enjoy around the small town. You can visit nearby Ucluelet and walk the Wild Pacific Trail, find out why Tofino is Canada’s surf capital, go on an adventure to Hot Springs Cove, or do some storm watching in winter. Tofino’s location in Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve means it’s also an excellent place to kayak and watch wildlife. It’s impossible to be bored in Tofino.

Another accommodation option in Tofino is Wickaninnish Inn. It’s the place to stay during storm season, as you can see the waves crash from the beach or the comfort of your hotel room. If you’re looking for places to eat in Tofino, check out the fish tacos at Tacofino, the seasonal menu at Wolf in the Fog, and the fish and chips at Wildside Grill.

Sunset in Tofino | © Fyre Mael / Flickr

Day 4: Drive to Nanaimo

Today it’s time to hit the highway and head back to Vancouver Island’s east coast. You could visit a place from day two that you may have missed or check out one of these other ideas. Firstly, Sproat Lake lies beside the highway, so it’s an easy place to stop for a break. The Horne Lake Caves are also about a three-hour drive from Tofino on the east side, and there are self-guided and guided tours available year-round. From the caves, it’s easy to reach Qualicum Beach, Parksville, and Nanaimo.

Nanaimo is a convenient place to stay the night if needed, as there is a direct ferry to Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver. Don’t miss seeing the Old City Quarter in Nanaimo either. Otherwise, Riverbend Cottage & RV Resort in nearby Parksville is home to yurts, a lodge, various types of cottages, and RV and tent sites. It’s minutes from Rathtrevor Beach and a 30-minute drive from Nanaimo’s ferry terminal.

Nanaimo’s waterfront | © Hayley Simpson

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